SINGAPORE - The number of households receiving government financial assistance and the amount given out by the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare) both reached a four-year low in 2018.
About 37,400 households benefited from the various ComCare schemes last year, a dip from the previous year, including those receiving short-to-medium-term assistance and long-term assistance, according to the ComCare annual report for the 2018 financial year released on Friday (Oct 11) by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
The amount of money disbursed last year was about $127 million, down from $131 million in 2017.
ComCare, launched in 2005, is a key social safety net that provides a financial lifeline to struggling Singaporeans.
The decrease is due to various factors, said those familiar with the social sector, citing the setting up of all 24 social service offices (SSOs) from 2013 to 2015 as a key factor.
The SSOs work with voluntary welfare organisations and community partners in each area to better coordinate the various social services offered and link up residents in need to the relevant helplines.
"After 2015, the outreach from social service offices and community partners is largely there, and people who need help know where to seek specific help," said Mrs Tan-Wu Mei Ling, executive director of Shine Children and Youth Services.
Singapore Management University sociologist Paulin Straughan pointed out that the numbers for ComCare schemes only reflect those who need financial help, as compared to other schemes targeted at specific needs.
Those who need help may now be supported by those schemes instead, she said, leading to a decline for ComCare.
She added: "The decrease in those on short-to-medium-term assistance is actually good news, as most of those applicants, who are in their 40s and 50s, are usually still able to find employment. It shows that they were able to re-enter the job market and support themselves."
The decrease in those on long-term assistance, a reversal of the trend from previous years, could be due to the newer cohort of those becoming older than 65 having saved more for retirement compared to previous cohorts and are hence more self-sufficient, she said.
However, there continues to be elderly singles living alone who will need the long-term aid, and are a segment of society that continue to need help, she added.
It was a point made by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee in the MSF statement, commenting on the ComCare data.
"As our population ages and family size gets smaller, ComCare will continue to play an important role in supporting vulnerable elderly and low-income families," he said.
"While the number of households on ComCare has stabilised, some of them face more challenges due to old age and less family support. This is why we are growing more partnerships between our community and government agencies to strengthen coordination and provide more comprehensive support to such families."
While the numbers on government financial aid may be on the decline, Mrs Tan-Wu emphasised that there are still people who need help, and this can come from various social agencies who have to coordinate a more comprehensive help scheme beyond finances.
"What we are seeing on the ground is a stronger need for coordinated help for multiple aspects of their lives," she said.
She added: "The reality of smaller family sizes and ageing population is something we see often, as it causes a stretch to family resources and bandwidth when they try to solve crises on their own without an extended family to tap. We may increasingly see more then turn to our centres for help."
The possible economic downturn that may lead to retrenchments may also see more come on board to receive short-to-medium-term assistance, said Mrs Tan-Wu.